(Adds further comment on Ukraine)
By Robert Muller
PRAGUE, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Slovakia’s prime minister criticized the European Union’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine on Thursday, saying they would only threaten economic growth in the 28-member bloc.
“Why should we jeopardize the EU economy that is beginning to grow?” Robert Fico told a news conference.
“If there is a crisis situation, it should be solved by other means than meaningless sanctions. Who profits from the EU economy decreasing, Russia’s economy having troubles and Ukraine economically on its knees?”
Fico also questioned Ukraine’s sanctions against Russia and said Slovakia must be prepared for a potential disruption of Russian natural gas supplies via Ukraine.
Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine on June 16 in a dispute over unpaid bills but so far has continued to supply gas which Ukraine sends on to Russia’s other customers.
However, intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukraine’s forces and pro-Russian separatists and escalating tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the EU have raised fears of a disruption of deliveries to Europe.
The Ukrainian parliament approved a law on Thursday to impose sanctions on Russian companies and individuals supporting and financing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s government has already prepared a list of 172 citizens of Russia and other countries, and of 65 Russian companies, including gas export giant Gazprom, on which they could impose sanctions “for financing terrorism”.
Fico said it was “strange” that Ukraine, after signing an association agreement with the EU, was taking “unilateral steps that ... threaten the individual economic interests of EU member states.”
Europe takes about a third of its gas imports from Russia, and about 40 percent of that amount flows through Ukraine and into the west via Slovakia.
When asked about potential disruptions, during a meeting with representatives of main Slovak gas companies, SPP and Eustream, Fico said, “We must be prepared that such a situation can actually come about.”
The European Union in July published a law that will curb arms sales to Russia and cut off financing for five major Russian banks over Moscow’s support for rebels in Ukraine.
In response, Moscow banned imports of most food from the West, a stronger-than-expected measure that isolates Russian consumers from world trade to a degree unseen since Soviet days.
Russian sanctions on the EU will hit as Europe’s economic recovery is already slowing. Euro zone economic growth ground to a halt in the second quarter, and Germany’s economy unexpectedly shrank, data showed on Thursday. (Editing by Michael Kahn/William Hardy/Susan Fenton)